Four years ago, I nearly gave up personal training.
I nearly became part of that statistic - the 80% of personal trainers who quit the industry in their first 2 years.
I nearly entered the real world, and got a * gulp * - J-O-B. (I still can't quite say the word fully.)
But I didn't.
I managed to turn myself from having no clients to being fully booked in just 6 months.
It Started in a Gym
When I left personal trainer "school" I spent my first year and a bit working in a commercial gym in London.
I wouldn't say my time there was a failure, but it was far from a success.
As a newbie in the industry, I just didn't quite have the confidence needed to compete in the ferocious world of big box gym PT-ing.
After 18 months of ticking by, living month to month, and getting incredibly frustrated and demotivated, it was time for a change of tact. So I quit the gym, and decided to try the in-home personal training route.
While the advice given here is based on what I did to get my mobile personal training business fully booked, all of these would also apply to those of you working in a commercial gym.
You'll still be working with people.
You'll still be getting them leaner, fitter, stronger, and as all trainers know - playing the role of counsellor from time to time too. You also need to know how to market yourself as a personal trainer, how to stand out as a personal trainer, how to advertise personal training, and how to sell personal training.
I learnt this the hard way - through trial and error -- and it very nearly led me to move into another industry. Fortunately though, I'm still here today.
Below are my top tips and resources for personal trainers to go from zero clients to fully booked in 6 months.
Step 1: Don't Be Afraid to Hustle
I love the idea of only working when you want, and only working with the exact people you love to train.
I'm at that point now, as are many other trainers, where I can pick and choose my working hours and my clients, which is cool.
You'll hear the top dogs in the industry telling you not to take on anyone who doesn't seem 100% committed and dedicated to you, and only work the exact hours you want to work.
I call garbage on that one.
To start with, you will have to hustle.
Too many trainers think they have a divine right to only work 3-hours per day and only train athletes.
If you can successfully do this, good luck to you. For the rest of us though, those first few years involve paying a lot of dues.
This isn't to say you should take on anyone and everyone, but be prepared to be flexible.
Ideally, you might only want to train basketball players looking to get a scholarship to college. But does that mean you'd turn down the 42-year old Mom who loves lifting weights, or the hockey player who's never going to turn pro but has a passion for training and sports?
Some people I've not been 100% sure of on first meeting have turned into fantastic clients and are still with me 4 years down the line.
If someone really doesn't seem like they'd be reliable or on board with your philosophies, then clearly they're not a good fit. But don't be elitist - you never know, that person could turn into an awesome client.
As for working hours - be strict with when you work, but don't be restricted.
That means decide on the hours you want to work, and don't train clients outside of these, but don't limit your hours so much that you'll never pick up anyone in the first place.
As a general rule of thumb, I'd say every newbie trainer should be prepared to work early mornings Monday to Friday, evenings at least 3 days of the week (if not 4) and at least 1 weekend morning.
Step 2: Market Right
Get your marketing right and you don't have to worry about the "wrong" people coming to you.
The worst mistake a new trainer can make is trying to appeal to everyone.
You'll see it on the personal trainer advertisement boards in your gym. You have guys who specialize in
- fat loss
- muscle gain
- strength training
- endurance training
- pre- and post-natal
- marathon running
- corrective exercise
- sports-specific training
Specialize? Really? In 8 different things?
I would pick one or possibly two areas to specialise in, and aim your marketing at people interested in those.
You've got to be yourself.
My fellow UK-based trainer and business marketing expert Paul Mort (there's links to his stuff in the resources part of his article by the way) says that too many trainers are vanilla.
They don't have a voice.
They try to please everyone and end up pleasing no one.
This means that whatever marketing and advertising you do, you have be true to yourself.
If you're a science geek, be a science geek. If you're funny, be funny. If you swear when you speak, then don't be afraid to swear.
This might turn people off, but are they the people you really want to work with?
Conversely, it will also make your target audience connect with you, and like you even more for appealing to them.
Step 3: Flyers Work
People say that flyers don't work.
Flyers do work, if you do them properly.
The average trainer thinks "right, I need to hit as many people as possible, so I'm going to post flyers to 5,000 houses."
When was the last time you got a flyer through the door and bought what it was offering?
Actually, when was the last time you even looked at a flyer, rather than just throwing it straight in the trash?
Here are the secrets to getting clients with flyers -
- Distribute to only 10-20% of the number of houses you were planning to
- Instead of sending one flyer, send one per week for 6 to 10 weeks.
- Deliver them on a Sunday afternoon, when no other post will be delivered.
- Make each one a mini-article, rather than a sales pitch.
- Have your contact details on there, but don't put offers in big fonts or as the main centerpiece.
This builds trust.
People see that you're giving them free content, rather than yelling "BUY ME" at them, and it starts to forge a relationship.
Provided your design is fairly eye-catching, and the content is good, you're on to a winner.
Step 4: Do the Daily
Get a mailing list set up.
Email is one of the best ways you have to pick up clients. It's much more personal than flyers or Facebook.
Have some sort of free download on your website, where you swap your mini e-book or course for an email address, and keep the email addresses of everyone who enquires about your services. Then start emailing them every day.
Similar to the flyer tactic, don't just see this as an excuse to spam them, but provide them with entertainment and information.
Don't be afraid about mailing every day.
You'll get people unsubscribe, but so what? The ones who stick around are the ones who connect with you, and who'll be much, much more likely to sign up with you in the future.
Step 5: A Smile and a Handshake Wins Every Time
Don't ever discount the power of meeting people.
One of Jon's articles about finding your neighbourhood mavens really resonated with me.
When I started out, networking was massive.
I wasn't in a gym, and had I just hidden away behind my laptop, it would've been incredibly difficult for me to pick up clients purely from online advertising and flyers.
Getting out and meeting people was crucial. And this scared the shit out of me.
It does for a lot of people too - the idea of having to go and introduce yourself to strangers, in a non-creepy way, with the ultimate goal of selling to them is incredibly daunting.
But think of it like this - you're not selling to them, you're merely trying to build relationships.
Hit up local coffee shops, hairdressers and salons, physiotherapists, libraries - any local business in fact.
Just go in, smile, and introduce yourself.
Say that you're starting up a business and give them a brief spiel, and say how much you'd love to send any business their way if, in return, they'd let you leave some cards or flyers there.
And even better approach (and this one works best with places where people go to socialize or spend a little time) is to offer to put on a free nutrition workshop for staff or customers.
Step 6: Stop Majoring in the Minor
Your branding matters.
But "branding" doesn't mean logos and fonts, or fancy websites.
Branding means conveying your message in such a way that you engage your target audience and make yourself stand out and look professional.
I've known fellow trainers spend hours agonising over what colour logo to choose, whether they should use Mailchimp or Aweber for their emails, and pay thousands for website design.
None of this matters if your brand sucks.
People will pick you as their trainer because they feel like they could have a relationship with you, not because you paid through the nose to get a professional film crew to make your promo video, or you got your branded polo shirts made by Under Armour instead of Fruit of the Loom.
Step 7: Become An Expert
An expert will always get more business.
Because they're the expert.
Who would be your first port of call if you wanted to find out about protein synthesis?
You'd go to Layne Norton.
All these names immediately spring to mind because they've made themselves experts in their chosen fields. Nobody wants to go to the second best guy or girl to get the best results.
Therefore, you have to place yourself as an expert in your town.
This relates back to step 2 - making sure you have your niche covered.
I became the go-to guy for everything home training. No one contacted me if they wanted to train in a gym, which was fine, because that wasn't the type of client I felt I'd connect best with. I'd done the gym thing and didn't want to do it again.
But anyone who wanted to lose fat in their own home was on the phone quicker to me than you can say "de novo lipogenesis."
This is something known as Top of Mind Association, or "TOMA."
You want everyone to immediately think of your name when it comes to stubborn fat loss/ training football players/ helping vegetarians build muscle - whatever it may be. Stop telling people you're a personal trainer, and start telling them what you excel at.
Step 8: Don't Break the Bank
What do you need to get someone stronger, leaner and fitter?
In terms of "need" the only thing you need as a trainer is your client's bodyweight, so you could start your training business with zero equipment costs.
However, I also do believe in getting a few basic bits of kit, purely because that's what the general public will expect of you.
Here's what I got -
- 3 kettlebells
- 2 mats (one for indoors, one for outdoors)
- 4 resistance bands
- an ab wheel
- Boxing gloves and pads
That's it. All for a total cost of less than $250.
Newbie personal trainers get far too concerned with having flashy equipment (see point 6) when in actual fact, all you need to attract clients and keep them coming back to you is the ability to deliver results, connect with them on a personal level, and a stunningly impressive set of glutes. (None of these are optional by the way.)
As a side note, if you think having such a pathetic equipment library is a downside, you know who started out in the basement of a commercial gym with nothing but a sled and a power rack?
I'd say he's done okay for himself.
Step 9. Match the Competition on Price, Kick Their Ass with Service
Price point is a tough one.
You tend to get two camps -
Trainers who say you should undercut the competition to get more clients, and trainers who say you should charge more to show you're better.
I'm not necessarily a fan of either.
I definitely don't like the first option.
Doing this cheapens and devalues your service, and you'll pick up clients who either aren't your target market, or who'll be unreliable and won't respect you and the work you do. That old saying "pay peanuts and you get monkeys"........
In theory, I like the second option, but I'm also a realist.
Maybe it's just me, but I never felt comfortable charging way over the rates of other local trainers. Unfortunately, for many people, price is a key consideration, and when you're starting out, those bills HAVE to be paid.
This is why I set up with more or less an average price in comparison with my competition, so that price wasn't a barrier to any enquiries.
If a client was looking for trainers, I wouldn't need to try and twist their arm over the phone or via email about why I was worth that extra money.
What I did do though, was offer great service, with added extras.
- Birthday cards
- Whenever I made some protein brownies or flapjacks I'd make enough for all my clients
- Texts when they were off on holiday to wish them a good time
- I sent them articles to topics we'd been discussing
Over time, I increased prices for new clients once I had that client base established, and raised current clients' prices at a reasonable rate, based on courses I'd done to increase my knowledge and their level of service, the rise in petrol prices for my travel, and so on. Provided you're sensible with these and can justify them, people don't mind price increase one bit.
Step 10: Get Your Ads Right
When I started out, Facebook wasn't the beast it is now.
SEO was where it was at for marketing and advertising, and I killed it.
Rather than go into how to master SEO for a local personal training business (as Google has changed, and the tactics I used are now virtually redundant) I will say that it's perfectly possible, and in fact, easy, to get 3 to 4 genuine leads every week.
With Facebook advertising now, it's even easier.
Again, it's all about content, NOT yelling "BUY ME."
Get yourself a business page set up, put some high-quality articles together, then boost the posts and target them at people in your area, with interests that suit the health and fitness market.
A free downloadable e-book can work wonders for this too. The fact that FB ads can be so specifically targeted can work massively in your favour.
It has never been easier to reach such a specific audience so cheaply and quickly.
Step 11: Look in the Right Places
I'm going to leave you with a bit of an open loop right now.
I found so many websites, books and resources that helped me to go from nothing to successful business in a relatively short space of time - without them, I'm pretty sure I'd now be working in an office, suited and booted, and getting pissed off at sitting in rush hour traffic every single day.
I'm not a fan of keeping good knowledge to yourself though, so I will share each and every one of these with you, as well as plenty that I've discovered since. (Some of which are even more useful that the ones I had a few years back.)
With a wealth of information and speedy access to some of the world's best (and richest) personal trainers at your fingertips, there's never been a better time to be a personal trainer.
(That and the fact there are more overweight and obese people than ever before.)
But it really shouldn't be that hard to learn what it takes to get to the top, from the folks who've got to the top.
It's not like you even have to pick up the phone - a quick email or Facebook message and you'll have a reply to your question with 24 hours, 90% of the time.
That being said, making it on your own is still hard. Damn hard.
If you've decided to pick the mobile route like I did, it might seem like you've got no one to actually talk to face to face and ask advice from.
And if you're in a gym, you've got the other trainers. That's the other trainers who you're competing for business with. Sure, they may be helpful, but they might not reveal their best tips for client accumulation.
Therefore, I'm a huge fan of finding different resources to help you along your way.
Not all of these were available to me at the time I started out, as some are newer than that, but I've included everything that really helped me, or that I've seen since and thought "Wow, that would have made everything so much easier."
I wasn't sure how to split this section - whether to divide it up by author/owner, to go via sections such as motivation/ email marketing/ flyering, or even alphabetically.
In the end, I decided to go with format.
Ignite the Fire - Jonathan Goodman
This needs no introduction really.
If you want to be a successful, fully booked trainer, buy this.
The 4-Hour Work Week - Timothy Ferris
This book flies in the face of the idea of having to work more hours for more money, or trading time for dollars.
The unfortunate truth is that PTs often equate being busy with being successful, yet the two are entirely separate. In fact, I'd even argue they're opposites.
Ferriss shows you how to leverage your time better, outsource to give yourself more freedom, make more money per hour for less work, and provides a tonne of motivation throughout the book. I was highly skeptical before I read this, but everyone, no matter what industry they're in, can benefit from reading it.
Key Person of Influence - Daniel Priestly
A recent addition to my library, but I wish I'd had this when I started. It would have provided so much clarity.
People want to work with experts, and you can be an expert.
Crush It - Gary Vaynerchuk
Editors Note: ThePTDC has a full book list for personal trainers as well.
The "Other" Resource
You know what by far away your best resource is?
And most of the time, these people won't be other fitpros.
The best people to speak to aren't the ones "in the trenches" or those who've already made a success of their business.
The best guys and girls are regular Joes/ Janes.
Your Mom and Dad.
Ask them what they'd want were they to hire a trainer.
And here's a kicker too ........... your clients.
Too many trainers completely and utterly forget that the best people to ask when it comes to finding out what people will pay money for in terms of training, nutrition and accountability are the people already paying you money.
You might only have one client. You might even only be training people for free, or running a bootcamp, but regardless, these folk are giving up money (or if not money, then at least time) to take your advice.
Why did they hire you?
What do they like about you?
Do they feel you're worth what they're paying?
What do they think is lacking?
What would they be prepared to pay more for?
Your clients are also a great way to reach new people.
Host a "bring a friend" day, or simply ask for referrals.
Don't do it like most PTs do though. Picture this -
- Nervous PT talking to client *
"So, um, Cheryl, I'm setting up this sort of referral system thing. If you've got a friend who wants to train with me, then I'll give you a free session if they sign up."
Pretty lousy, right?
Give this a go -
- Assume confident posture, and talk with purpose. *
"Cheryl, do you mind if I ask you something?
I'm currently trying to help as many people in the local community as possible, and am really looking to get fitness and nutrition to the forefront of * insert town here *
Do you have 2 or 3 people who you think would really benefit from getting their health, training, and diet in check?
It could be anyone - colleagues, friends, family members. I'm guessing if you're an action taker, and care enough about yourself to be training regularly, you must know at least a few others.
What I'd love to do is meet up with all of you for coffee and we'd go through how they'd benefit from following your lead.
Americanos are on me obviously, and if they do sign up it'd be a pleasure to give you a complimentary session.
"Does that sound doable?"
By giving Cheryl a few compliments, and being proactive, without being forceful, you'll make her actually think about whom in her life would be interested, and whom she may refer to you.
Just use this as a template and change it as you see fit. It probably goes without saying, but if your client is called Dave or Ian, don't call him Cheryl.
The Wrap Up
Getting set up as a successful trainer isn't easy.
And, just like burning fat or building muscle, there are no magic tricks to fast results.
You have to put the work in, and you have to be consistent.
Above all, be an action taker. If you're currently a procrastinator, that won't cut it.
None of the tips in this article are guaranteed to work, and I certainly wouldn't proclaim to have the secret, but they did all work for me. Plenty didn't though (emailing large local businesses, approaching gym chains, and leaving leaflets at slimming clubs for instance,) but that's not to say they wouldn't be the kick-starter to your success.
Have an idea? Give it a go - you never know, it might pay off.